Public funds

Village mayor indicted for fictitiously employing public workers and embezzling their wages

A village mayor is accused of employing public workers only “on paper” between 2015 and 2017. The trial has just started, the mayor has not yet confessed and denies any wrongdoing. However, the former public workers, who are also accused, have all admitted that they were paid without real work. Ákos Hadházy, an independent MP, said the trial showed a frequent practice, yet hardly any mayors fail.

Péter Lép, the independent mayor of the village of Kárász (300 inhabitants), and his associates have been charged with fraudulent budget and other offences causing major financial loss. According to the indictment, in 2O15, 2016 and 2017, the mayor hired public employees under a publicly funded programme.

According to the accusations, however, 3 persons had proved their employment with false attendance sheets and payroll documents. The aim was to ensure that the number of staff covered by the official contracts was guaranteed and that the municipality could draw the money from the public programme. According to the indictment, the mayor’s aim was to „systematically make a profit”, causing a financial loss of HUF 2.4 million between 2015 and 2017.

The trial revealed that the employees did not work regularly in the village and did not receive the wages indicated on the employment contract, only a part of it: 25-30 thousand HUF per month.

During the three years, one of them received half a million forints from the municipality, and two received more than 1 million forints. It was reported that

the other half of the money remained in the mayor’s office.

The mayor and two public workers were charged with commercial budget fraud causing major financial loss and using forged documents, while one person was charged with using forged documents.

The prosecutor’s office proposed that the mayor be fined and forfeited property (up to HUF 669 580), and banned from holding the office of mayor as an occupation. The other defendants were to be released on probation and to be held liable, in whole or in part, for the financial damages caused. Two public employees have already pleaded guilty and have been sentenced.

The village of Kárász

Independent Member of Parliament Ákos Hadházy, who has been following the case for years, also attended the hearing.

He told Atlatszo that he has received many inquiries over the years about how mayors have abused their power: they can decide who they hire for public works, and they also have influence over what they have to work for for humiliatingly little money. Often they are used to make investments that are then invoiced to other contractors, or they are made to work on the agricultural lands of the mayors.

According to Hadházy, mayors are almost always not held to account. This case may be an exception because there were conscientious and prepared citizens in the municipality who made public the mayor’s suspected abuses and filed a complaint. The trial will continue in September.

Written and translated by Eszter Katus. More detailed Hungarian version of this story. Cover photo: Péter Lép, the independent mayor of Kárász in front of the judge.